The Rooster set the Cat on fire

Image: Vlad Bagacian


The felling of a tree, the beating of a transvestite, the death of an Indian or the murder of a black woman do not shake as much as a burning fire.

In the avenues and squares, in the names of streets, roads and overpasses, the city of São Paulo parades its pantheon of murderers and oppressors. Under and over the eyes of millions of workers and the unemployed who are mutilated on a daily basis, the hardness of the statues stands as a panoptic of the victors.

Today's sertanistas continue to explore and sow modernity, exploiting workers, setting fire to forests and attacking Indians.

A new statue of a new Borba Gato will, in a few years, be planted, like a flag on the moon, in the heart of what is still the Amazon rainforest today.

Contradicting the statues, thousands of graffiti and graffiti, classified as aggressive and without artistic value, cover the city like secret signatures of voiceless peripheral subjects. How many were the faces of Marielle Franco erased by the streets of the city?

“The bourgeoisie destroys or appropriates working class spaces all the time. By transforming, for example, the Júlio Prestes station, formerly frequented by everyone, into an exclusive place for its sociability, it gives a new meaning to that heritage. When more than a century ago there was the demolition of the Church of Our Lady of Black Men of São Paulo to build a bank (monument to the god Mamon), those interested justified it with the 'ugliness' of the religious temple. Galo can tell his tormentors that Borba Gato is not particularly handsome…

No city destroys workers' memories as well as São Paulo, 'Brazil's locomotive', which pulls the other wagons to hell. Here, however, is one of the key points where the entire web of violence against the Brazilian population can be sabotaged.” (Lincoln Secco. “The Borba Gato case”. Available at:

It is interesting to think, in this passing reference to Lincoln Secco by the name of Júlio Prestes, that this was the last president elected and not sworn in of the Old Republic, whose end, with the 1930 coup, marked the fall of the São Paulo oligarchy, which in turn made , precisely, of the bandeirantes, their symbol of strength and power. It is still curious to think that, after Júlio Prestes, the only elected president of the republic of São Paulo was Jair Bolsonaro.

From the bandeirantes to the militias, passing through the coffee oligarchy, this country continues to treat its necropolitical rulers as myth or hero, while on the outskirts the weapons of the oppressive forces – and the statue of Borba Gato wields one of them – continue to spit fire; while the Cinemateca Brasileira continues to burn; while the National Museum continues to burn; the cement community is still on fire (cement that actually caught fire, different from the cement in the statue); the Moinho favela is still on fire; Favela da Zaki Narchi is still on fire.

There are memories implanted in the popular imagination and others burned, uprooted, interdicted.

But there are images with the power to extract from silence and oblivion what the statues, with their petrifying presence and dreams of eternity, bury under their heavy feet – like Derek Chauvin's knee.

The image of Borba Gato in flames, for all that it represents, is a historical condensate, a flash of the door of possible transformation, what Benjamin called, in reference to surrealism, profane illumination, which we can understand as an image crossed by the snapshot. that escapes the meaning, not entirely metaphorizable, the very field in which something of the collective desire finds the giving voice to the silences of social symptoms.

From satisfaction to anger, passing through fear, the image provoked everyone's affections, returning to each one (and in a more intimate and confessed way for some than for others) their place in the web of power and in the spectrum of social transformation, which goes from the death of the Rooster to the fall of the Cat.

In the most diverse and varied manifestations that we found about the episode, from the erudite to the cathartic, we can read who believes in witches and knows how to pull the Malleus Maleficarum from the shelf when convenient and who, with wide eyes and open mouth, like Paul Klee's angels, knows look into the past and see among the rubble the multitude of burned bodies.

Those who grew up and received basic and public school education in the city of São Paulo, throughout the 70s, had to learn to keep an Olympic image of the bandeirantes within themselves. (For the children of that time, however, the statue of Borba Gato was a landmark in the city, without much connection with the São Paulo odyssey.)

In 1974, the State of São Paulo won the poem Hino dos Bandeirantes, by Guilherme de Almeida, as its official anthem: “[…] Ahead is the sertão. / Go, follow the Entrance! / Confront, Advance, Invest! / North South East West! / In Bandeira or Monção, / Tame the wild Indians, / Break through the jungle, open mines, cross rivers! / On the bed of the Quarry, / The sleeping stone awakes, / It twists its stiff arms, / And takes the gold from its hiding places! / Knock, drain the denim, / Plow, plant, populate! / Then it's back to the drizzle! […]”.

If at that time hymns of praise and glory were sung to the faithful liberators of the mythical anti-civilizing threats, Paulo Galo and his companions of the Peripheral Revolution opened wide that it is in the mystification of the conqueror (an ambiguous word, still, since it swings between the triumphant, the xavequeiro and the devastating) that it is necessary to recognize the presence of barbarism.

How many witches would be alive if Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer had not published their fake news treatise on black magic?

How many Brazilians would be alive if the denialism of the Ministry of Health had not turned the vaccine into something of the devil, in the name of “Brazil above all” (our direct equivalent of “Deutschland über alles")?

How many of us have a statue of Borba Gato encrusted on our bodies, like a second skin? And how many do we bring a sculpture of combustible remains, like those by Frans Krajcberg? On the one hand, an icon of repression, on the other, a tragic index of the burning. If the first is destruction of memory, the second is memory of destruction. The subversive fire that offended the first is not the same criminal fire that made the second a monument. The first represents barbarism; the second, the denunciation.

A burned genocidal statue is less desecration than the hanging of the tombstone that hid the screams of its victims.

The Peripheral Revolution burned a statue, but dominating reason, in turn, has already burned so many peoples, so many people and so much things in the name of progress that the felling of a tree, the beating of a transvestite, the death of an Indian or the The murder of a black woman is not as disturbing as the fire burning – like a giant flame begging for its mercy – around a symbol made of mortar and tram tracks (by the way, in the bones of Borba Gato lie other lost memories of the city).

And even though Júlio Guerra was inspired by northeastern popular art, making his Borba Gato a kind of giant cangaceiro of Master Vitalino, it is possible to bet that the defenders of the statue, concerned more with the tons of public heritage than with the incalculable weight of their representations, they would prefer to approximate what they accused of vandalism to the former cangaço, than to analyze how much the narrative of bandeirante heroism, by aiming at the imposition of the State of São Paulo as a contrasting modernization with a vaunted backwardness in the Northeast, participated in the promotion and support of prejudices still present today.

The incendiary image of Borba Gato in flames, no less material for being, in this case, an image, as far as I can only limitedly see, reached part of the middle class willing to get out of its monumental rigidity. Another part of it, however, prefers to immediately stifle what it considered violence and call the firefighters to maintain peace and order, blind and apathetic on its pedestal.

*Conrado Ramos, a psychoanalyst, holds a PhD from the Institute of Psychology at USP.


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